Cam Ward has been the starting goalie for the Carolina Hurricanes since 2006, but this season he’s accepting a different role.
Carolina acquired Scott Darling in a trade from the Chicago Blackhawks on April 28 and signed the pending unrestricted free agent to a four-year contract May 6. Ward, 33, said he knows his starts will be limited this season in favor of the 28-year-old Darling.
“I’m realistic,” Ward told The News & Observer last week. “I understand the situation. I know he was brought in here to sign a four-year deal for pretty good money not to be a backup.
“I know where I am in my career. … Certainly I’m a competitive guy and I still want to be able to play and I’ll do whatever I can to earn that ice time, but I’m hopeful he can make that next step. He deserves that.”
Ward made 61 starts for the Hurricanes last season and was 26-22-12 with a 2.69 goals-against average and .905 save percentage. He’s made at least 60 starts eight of the past 10 full NHL seasons, but his goals-against average has gone up each of the past three seasons and his save percentage has gone down. Eddie Lack, who was the backup for the Hurricanes last season, was traded to the Calgary Flames on June 29.
“I’m getting toward the end,” Ward said. “I hate to say that, but it’s realistic. I’m not in the first half of my career; I’m in the second half.”
Ward, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs when he helped the Hurricanes win the Cup in 2006, is the Carolina/Hartford Whalers franchise leader in wins (295), shutouts (25) and games played by a goalie (625). However, the Hurricanes haven’t been to the playoffs since 2009.
Darling, who has been Corey Crawford’s backup with the Blackhawks the past three seasons, was 18-5-5 with a 2.38 GAA and .924 save percentage in 2016-17. He won the Stanley Cup in 2015.
“I thought it was a great move,” Ward said. “I’ve heard nothing but good things about Scott Darling. … I look at a guy who’s ready to take that next step.”
Ward, selected in the first round (No. 25) by Carolina in the 2002 NHL Draft, is entering the final season of a two-year contract.
“You learn to appreciate the game a lot more, your time with your teammates and trying to help them out. I’m looking forward to meeting Scott. I think we’ll be a good partnership.”